What is democracy? Many of us might struggle to come up with an answer. The documentary Please Vote for Me depicts a democratic voting process in a third grade class at Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan, China. Will a group of third graders know how to vote? Well, I started watching the movie with this doubt, and it fades away as the story unfolds. Afterall, voting in primary school classroom is really not that different from one in the adult world.
As the teacher emphasized, this election of class monitor is designed to be democratic. Ironically, the first (implicit) round of the election seems to contradict this claim: three candidates for class monitor were chosen by the head teacher. Note: they are not nominated by the students. How the head teacher came up with these candidates is the single biggest secret in this election, although one can make an educated guess by observing the profession of their parents. The incumbent, Lei, was confident boy and always anxious to maintain the order of the class. He had been the class monitor for the past two years. Lei was faced with two challengers — Cheng, a chubby boy who was very good at public speaking, and Xiaofei, an introverted girl struggling to establish her self-confidence.
Not surprisingly, the game between the three candidates turned into a competition of maneuvers between their parents. Cheng’s parents taught him to play nice in front of his opponents while spreading rumors and creating chaos when necessary. He also fully utilized his outstanding public speaking skills, winning cheers and applause during his speech. By contrast, Lei adopted a “hands off” approach at first. “I’ll let my classmates make their own choice.” he said to his parents. But after he found out rumors were dissolving his power base, he felt the urge to make up for it. He invited all his classmates to take the monorail, which was a luxury in Wuhan then (I can testify as a native of Wuhan). Lei quickly won the support of many classmates by this sincere move.
The debating section was probably the most hilarious part of the movie. Somehow it reminds me of the American presidential debate. Well, of course you can argue the latter contains more sophistication and is (seemingly) more civilized. I remember Cheng criticizing Xiaofei: “you eat too slow”. My reaction was: “What? As girls we are supposed to eat slow!”
The movie made me think about what I went through as a candidate internal vice chairperson of my undergraduate university choir. We twelve people, the newly proposed executive committee, went through a two-day overnight campaign to prove that we were capable of the job. Choir members and past executive committee members relentlessly asked us about our year plan (literally every detail of every single function) and our budget. This campaign was definitely a challenging and unforgettable experience. Two lessions were learnt: 1) You can never convince others if you doesn’t know your arguments perfectly well, and 2) you only need the majority of voters to win an election.
While the movie seems to focus on behaviors of the candidates, it records reactions from other students as well. I wonder what thought process the other students (the voters) went through to choose their future monitor. For the past two years they had been assigned one and they seemed to be doing just fine. When you place the “sacred vote” in their hands, will they hold onto it or disregard it? Will they know the importance of them — the voters — as independent entities affecting the distribution of power in the future? These are open ended questions for educators to reflect upon.
This movie is available on NetFlix. Thanks to Marc for recommending.